European investors question Statoil’s stake in Alberta’s tar sands

Major European investment funds and banks spoke out last week against Statoil’s contentious presence in the Alberta tar sands by supporting a motion at the company’s AGM in Norway and citing economic and sustainability concerns.
For the third year in a row, the tar sands issue dominated Statoil’s AGM. Minor shareholders Greenpeace Norway and WWF Norway tabled a resolution calling on Statoil to withdraw completely from its operations in the Alberta tar sands. Roughly half the meeting was spent debating the resolution. Scandinavian investors Folksam and Storebrand and Heather Milton-Lightening, a representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network spoke to the motion.

“Statoil is owned by the Norwegian people. We are calling on Norway to respect the rights of First Nations people by divesting Statoil development in the Canadian tar sands. The Canadian tar sands are destroying the way of life and culture of First Nations people which are protected by the Canadian constitution under section 35,” said Milton-Lightening. “The Alberta Chiefs have called for a moratorium on any new oil and gas development until cumulative impact studies have been done to understand the impacts on First Nations communities.”
The motion did not pass, despite strong and vocal support from Storebrand, Folksam and other influential Scandinavian investors and the Norwegian church. The motion was not expected to pass, since the Norwegian government controls more than 70 per cent of the Statoil shares and has, so far refused, to intervene in the company’s investments.
Of the attending shareholders who control the remaining shares, 1.25 per cent voted in favour of the Greenpeace/WWF motion and against the Board with another 0.5 per cent abstaining. These shares represent holdings in the vicinity of 1.1 billion USD, and around 20 per cent of participating private capital in the company. The vote for the motion was slightly down from last year’s support of 1.38 per cent, due largely to the fact that several major shareholders such as the Swedish Bank sold their tar sands shares in protest of the company’s involvement. 

“Greenpeace is very pleased that such prominent and long-term owners like Storebrand, SPP, Folksam and the Norwegian Church supported our proposal. It is clear that they have the ability to see what the Norwegian government refuses to admit: that the tar sands are not and never will be sustainable,” said Truls Gulowsen, director of Greenpeace in Norway. “The state is the majority shareholder in Statoil, and with that ownership comes great responsibility. Choosing to let Statoil continue in the tar sands shows both bad ownership and poor leadership.”
An open letter from James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change, to Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg ran in the national paper Klassekampen today. In his letter, Hansen urged Stoltenberg to protect children and the climate by supporting the motion and withdrawing from the tar sands.

The Statoil AGM was held just a week after the company came under fire from environmentalists for producing emissions in its tar sands operations that are significantly higher than predicted. Each barrel of bitumen Statoil produced in the tar sands in 2010 resulted in 670kg of CO2 per barrel, about 85 times as high as a barrel of conventional North Sea oil produced by Statoil, according to figures the company published last week.
“People around the world are recognizing that the tar sands represent the worst face of our global addiction to oil and the global movement against the tar sands is growing,” said Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner. “The global community is demanding green jobs, not Canada’s dirty oil. It’s time to implement energy and transportation options that don’t poison our communities, or devastate the planet.”

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